Shaping a Muslim State: The World of a Mid-Eighth-Century Egyptian Official

Publication Year


  • Accessible history of the formation of Islam and the first hundred years of Muslim rule in Egypt
  • Examines a corpus of previously unknown Arabic papyrus letters
  • Illustrated with 35 black and white plates

    Shaping a Muslim State provides a synthetic study of the political, social, and economic processes which formed early Islamic Egypt. Looking at a corpus of previously unknown Arabic papyrus letters, dating from between AD 730 and 750, which were written to a Muslim administrator and merchant in the Fayyum oasis in Egypt, Sijpesteijn examines the reasons for the success of the early Arab conquests and the transition from the pre-Islamic Byzantine system and its Egyptian executors to an Arab/Muslim state.

    By examining the impact of Islam on the daily lives of those living under its rule, the volume highlights the striking newness of Islamic society while also acknowledging the influence of the ancient societies which preceded it. The book applies theoretical discussions about governance, historiography, (social) linguistics, and source criticism to understand the dynamics of early Islamic Egypt, as well as the larger process of state formation in the Islamic world.


    Note on Editions, Dates, and References
    List of Maps
    List of Plates
    Part I: Discussion
    1. The Egyptian context: Geography and History
    2. Arab Egypt: The first fifty years
    3. The Second Fifty Years: Consolidation and Reform
    4. Beyond Words
    5. Conclusion
    PART II: The Texts
    Note on the Orthography and Grammar of the Papyri
    Letters to 'Abd Allah b. As'ad from Najid b. Muslim
    Other Letters to 'Abd Allah b. As'ad
    Letter from 'Abd Allah b. As'ad
    Letters from/Related to Najid b. Muslim


    Shaping a Muslim State is one of the most useful studies on the history of Arab/Islamic Egypt to appear in many years. ... The scholarship on display is admirable: the book is clearly written, closely and sensibly argued, and thoroughly documented. ... It is...a significant contribution to Late Antique and early Islamic studies alike." --Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

Series Title
Oxford Studies in Byzantium
Oxford University Press